You’ve heard the list of health problems caused by smoking cigarettes – heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems – and now you can add hearing loss to the list. If you smoke, or live with someone who smokes, your hearing health is at risk.
Hearing health experts have suspected that smoking contributes to hearing loss since an initial study in 1962; however, on-going studies confirm it. Smokers are 70 percent more likely than non-smokers to suffer hearing loss, according to an article in the June 1998 Journal of the American Medical Association. The study also found that non-smokers living with a smoker were twice as likely to develop hearing loss as those who were not exposed at all.
Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine found that teens exposed to cigarette smoke are to two to three times as likely to develop hearing loss compared to those with little or no exposure. Eighty percent of the participants in the 2011 study had no idea their hearing health had been affected.
If you’re having trouble understanding how something you inhale into your lungs can affect how you hear with your ears, consider this: blood flow and oxygen are both extremely important to maintaining healthy hair cells in your inner ear – and nicotine and carbon monoxide from smoking deplete oxygen levels and constrict blood vessels all over your body.
Additionally, smoking irritates the Eustachian tube and lining of the middle ear. Some hearing health experts also believe that nicotine interferes with the neurotransmitters responsible for telling the brain what is happening along the hearing nerve.
Nicotine is considered to be ototoxic, meaning it can damage hearing. In addition to hearing loss, nicotine can cause tinnitus (or ringing in the ears), dizziness and vertigo. Smoking may also make you more sensitive to loud noises – and therefore more susceptible to developing noise-induced hearing loss.
Studies indicate the longer a person smokes – or is exposed to cigarette smoke – the greater the damage to their hearing health. But here’s the good news. According to the American Lung Association, 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure decreases and your circulation improves. Within eight hours, your carbon monoxide and oxygen levels return to normal. In 48 hours, your sense of smell and taste improve and your nerve endings begin to regenerate.
That’s good news for your hearing health. And although you can’t reverse any sensorineural hearing loss you’ve developed, you do prevent any future nicotine-related damage to your hearing once you stop smoking.